Red Zone is like Twilight Zone for Rebels

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OXFORD — For Ole Miss, the so-called Red Zone was more like the Twilight Zone.

Against No. 9 Missouri Saturday night, the Rebels made three trips inside the Missouri 20 and scored just three points.

That will get you beat against most anybody, and especially against a Top 10 team that was in the process of winning its 10th game in 11 2013 outings. Final score: Missouri 24, Ole Miss 10.

Said Hugh Freeze, correctly: “It’s impossible to beat a Top 10 team like that.”

Those three red zone possessions ended in a blocked field goal, a field goal and a final trip when the Rebels turned the ball over on downs.

Whatever could go wrong did. The Rebels jumped the snap; they dropped passes; they stepped out of bounds by a whisker on an apparent touchdown; they had a miscommunication on a pass pattern; and they failed to protect the middle on a chip shot field goal.

All we needed was Rod Serling on the P.A. system: Beyond the 20-year line is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of penalties and missed assignments; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

Plus, Missouri is seriously good and didn’t need Serling’s help. The Tigers won the line of scrimmage and did so especially when either team was in the red zone.

It certainly didn’t help that Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace was playing with flu-like symptoms, including a high fever and needed IVs both before the game and at halftime. Wallace apparently began to feel poorly on Friday afternoon and got progressively worse.

He gave it the proverbial old college try — in fact, he completed 26 of 42 passes for 242 yards. But as Freeze put it, “He was glassy eyed. He just felt terrible.”

And so the countdown is on to Thursday night’s Egg Bowl, which got a whole lot more interesting with Mississippi State’s overtime victory over Arkansas earlier Saturday. At 5-6, the Bulldogs can become bowl-eligible by successfully protecting their own turf at Scott Field on Thanksgiving night.

It is precisely the same position Ole Miss was in a year ago when the Rebels were 5-6 and used a victory over State to become bowl eligible.

“They’ve got their backs to the wall,” Freeze said. “We know they are going to be ready. We gotta make sure we’re ready and there’s not a lot of time.”

Freeze has plenty more to be concerned about than that.

“Mississippi State is really good up front on both sides of the ball,” Freeze said. “They’re good enough up front to be in any game. I know they’re going to be emotional.”

But Freeze has no clue who he will be facing at quarterback. Freshman Damien Williams came off the bench to pull the Arkansas game out for the Bulldogs. Tyler Russell appeared to suffer a late-game injury to his throwing shoulder. Dak Prescott missed the game and is officially “day to day.”

“That doesn’t make our preparation any easier,” Freeze said. “I’m sure we’ll prepare for all of them.”

Somebody asked me what I thought the pointspread will be. I’m guessing Ole Miss is a 5-point favorite. Of course, I don’t know who will play quarterback, either. For either team, for that matter. Bo Wallace was too ill to come to the post-game press conference. If he really has the flu, his preparation for the Egg Bowl will be minimal.

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